“Water” (What are) Our Resources?
The first session of the Wedgworth Maximize series began with a focus on the value and importance of water as it relates to many different individuals within North Central Florida. The players in focus for this session included passionate environmentalists and recreationalists, large institutional land holders, farmers, agriculture entities, water management districts, and even the local population. Every single one of these players has a distinct rationale as to how and why they should have access to this precious commodity. The takeaway quote from one of the local farmers that seemed to resonate throughout the day:
“Water is a resource to be used but not to be abused.”
- The day kicked off with a visit with the director of Our Santa Fe River, a nonprofit lending a voice to the local waterways. Through her passion and volunteer direction, she has helped to guide, limit, and/or restrict some activities or entities that could potentially negatively affect the rivers and tributaries within this region. These may include:
- CAFOS, farm operations, and large-scale ag operations (Pilgrim’s Pride, local mining operations, greenways or trailways, or intensive chicken production facilities)
- Her passion has led her to Tallahassee to meet with lawmakers, to even run for a seat in the state house, and to have influence with key decision makers in her area. A takeaway from this visit was that someone is going to be making decisions. If we aren’t part of that, our best interests may not be represented.
- Who knew that water was so vital to production agriculture? We next visited with the tenants of Suwannee Farms. This land produces peanuts, potatoes, carrots, sweet corn, and field corn. With 100% of these acres irrigated, the comment was made that without irrigation the farm would not be viable. This farm operation works in close conjunction with the Suwannee River Water Management District using groundwater monitor wells, water use consumption rates, and upgraded efficiency practices on the irrigations systems themselves. Some key points in the use of this irrigation to consider:
- It is monitored intensively and extensively for nutrient management
- It is used to help with herbicides, yield, fungicides, and even harvesting efficiency
- It is used judiciously so as not to leach nitrogen, waste water, or affect neighbors
- This water is leveraged to create the highest use value for the property
A neighboring dairy farmer then shed light on how water is being used in denitrification of a contaminated area he is utilizing. Using monitoring wells, he can recycle ground water through a sand and wood chip trap to create an environment in which bugs can pull the nitrogen out of the groundwater. The filtered excess water is then utilized throughout the dairy operation to create a nearly zero-sum consumption of water for the entire operation. This also reduced his point source pollution to acceptable levels.
Wrapping up the day was the introduction to REITs and the Suwannee River Management Water District.
- REITs are defined as real estate investment trusts and are companies that own or finance income-producing real estate across a range of property sectors. Most REITs trade on major stock exchanges, and they offer a number of benefits to investors.
- Using an average value of $6000/acre, REITs in 2020 accounted for approximately 2 million acres of owned farmland throughout the US.
- These REITs on average seek a 5% ROI from their activities.
- REITs will be seeking to add additional acres in the North Florida region in the future. Ample water, sunlight, relatively low land prices, and access to large markets lends to additional investment opportunities in the area.
- Although Suwannee Farms is not a part of a REIT, the concept behind the purchase of this farm was similar. Wealth preservation and a better return on investment was the sentiment of the purchase of Suwannee Farms by the Gates Foundation.
The Suwannee River Water Management District is right in the middle of every one of the above entities. The focus of the district is four-fold:
- Water Supply
- Water Quality
- Flood Protection and Floodway Management
- Natural Systems
With 400 individual springs throughout the district along with many rivers, creeks and drains, it is imperative the district balances the needs and use of this precious resource. 2015 data shows the district used 253 MGD (million gallons per day) with 58% of this being used in some form by agriculture. It is estimated that by 2035 the daily water use in the district will rise an additional 117 MGD. A fascinating read on this data can be found here.
A question I leave with all: “What are the resources you have in your hands?”
“Water” Your Resources? Is it water, land, timber, grass, sunshine, location, leadership, availability, access to decisionmakers, business acumen? Will we choose to use it or abuse it? Will we leverage what we have for the good of those around us? How will we steward it – will we be engaged, intentional, and on purpose? Will we ignore what we have and one day wish differently? Will we recognize others could benefit from our resource or will we ignore those that we could partner with to make everyone better? How will we use the resource we have been given to make our community, region, and world a better place? Let’s go do that today.